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Digital city festival


09 Apr 2021

Dropping the digital divide

Bec Chelin, Managing Director, Manifest Manchester
Dropping the digital divide
Bec Chelin, Manifest

Since the launch of the very first MySpace account through to fully immersive online experiences, why does ‘digital’ mean ‘different’ for communications?

Humans are funny little beings. We like labels. To pop similar things in neat little buckets to make them easier to identify, and identify with. We’re creatures of habit and order - or so we like to think.

Marketers and the communications industry love a label, a pen portrait or a segment or two. Channels, audiences, demographics… bring it all on. And consumers, beware! Careful not to veer out of your colour-coded, well-ordered group. How else can we work out how to communicate with you if we can’t do it en masse?

That’s the flippant view, of course, but there is a counterproductive element to this thinking when we look at digital and non-digital communications. The question is, why do we differentiate between the two at all?

Drop the digi-vision

Thinking about the way we go about our everyday lives - either as consumers or communications professionals (heaven forbid both) - we don’t adopt a ‘lens’ or ‘filter’ that recognises when we’re consuming messages digitally or otherwise. 

As a consumer of many types of media, I don’t read a print ad from a brand, then see a social post from the same brand, and think of that message as separate - just as I don’t think about forms of entertainment involving real-life encounters or digital experiences, as anything other than simply different forms of having fun.

Yes, there have been many reasons to pursue the segmentation of channels previously. In the past, broadly speaking, digital marketing was seen to be Kryptonite to Generation X and Baby Boomer populations. But aside from it being wildly generalistic - and pretty insulting - to say that past a certain big birthday you become unable to differentiate between the front and back of a smartphone, it’s completely wrong. This is proven more so by COVID-19.

Age or demographic doesn’t drive audiences to channel or content - necessity (in myriad forms) does. A recent 2021 consumer trends report, Connecting The Dots, from the Global Web Index found: 

“The ‘generation-defining’ year of 2020 has been much more impactful for Gen X and boomers compared to their younger counterparts. Barely any part of their online lives has been left untouched by the pandemic, to the extent where distinctions between “young” and “old” from a digital standpoint have taken a big step toward becoming less relevant.

“As lockdown restrictions came into effect, spikes in digital activity followed. For younger groups, it didn’t take long for these spikes to settle down. For older groups, their engagement continued to flourish. As lockdowns began to ease, older groups were doing much more than just browsing Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix. 

“These shifts represent a step-change in how the internet fulfils the basic needs of older consumers, and how much they’ll rely on the internet in the future.”

Blurred lines

So what does this mean for digital or non-digital communications? Well, hopefully, it’ll mean the complete blurring of lines until the term is simply ‘communications’. 

Why is ‘Digital PR’ different to ‘PR’? It’s relating with the public. The way you do that is by reaching them in their preferred medium at that time, in the place they are there and then. 

Who knows what’s next, but as comms professionals we should be ready to change and flex with it, looking at our consumers in the round, and not just through the lens of one channel or another.

The good news is, this mindset shift is starting to happen. Take the recent Marmite x Autoglass campaign. Love it or hate it, it got traction. The original idea, executed by Adam&EveDDB, sought to promote Marmite’s new ‘explosive’ chilli flavour by showing a billboard of the product with the lid blown off, landing square in a nearby car windscreen. Was it shot in real life? Yup. Did it need to be? Probably not.

A quick creative response from Rise at Seven showed an Autoglass team on-site and sorting the problem. No expensive second shoots this time, but instead a quick-turnaround digital-only execution of the idea.

The resulting Twitter-storm of brands piling on in yet another bid to go viral left plenty rolling their eyes. Regardless of whether you like the creative execution or not, the more interesting thing here is making the decision to go digital, IRL, or both. 

Both ideas could have been done both ways, but the decision was made to execute each differently to reach respective audiences most effectively. And that’s a great thing. When you just start thinking about the best and most effective way to reach, entertain and involve consumers in your creative campaign. Not whether it’s ‘digital’ or ‘not-digital’.

Telling unmissable stories

Connections made digitally can be just as powerful as those made in real life - especially when necessity drives it. The most recent TV ad from Virgin Media - again from Adam&EveDDB - tells the story of how online gaming has delivered far more than just a point of escapism for many over the last year. 

Rather, the digital world has become a source of comfort and connection for thousands when face-to-face just wasn’t an option.

The one thing to watch out for is making sure digital doesn’t replace IRL communications completely as we emerge blinking back into the world throughout this year. But it would be foolish of any marketer to think we have the ultimate decision on that one. 

Consumer need and desire will be the ultimate driving force behind any successful campaign consumption. Our job is to make sure the storytelling behind our campaigns is so compelling that people can’t not consume it.

Putting the creative idea - and people - first, not the channel or medium, will be the ultimate success factor. To do that, it’s time to drop the digital/non-digital divide.

Broadcast from MediaCityUK, Digital City Festival launches on Monday for two weeks of digital events.